20 Years of Improving Women’s Health: 1994 – 2014

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health, I would like to highlight some of the work we’ve done to help improve women’s health, both looking across FDA and within the office. Whether it is approving new treatments for chronic conditions like heart disease, conducting research or helping to protect pregnant women from foodborne illnesses, the work we do at FDA makes a difference throughout a woman’s life.

Consider our product approvals. In 1996, for example, our agency approved a product for use in Pap smears that revolutionized the detection of cervical cancer; ten years later we approved the first vaccine for the prevention of this cancer. We have also approved advances in breast imaging, including 3D breast tomosynthesis and automated screening ultrasound.

We have encouraged innovation in lupus treatment and approved the first new lupus drug in 50 years. And we approved the latest generation of cardiac synchronization therapy devices which our own FDA scientists have shown particularly benefit women with heart failure.

FDA has also supported research to help us better understand how medical products affect women. Since 1994, the Office of Women’s Health research program has provided $30 million to support over 300 research projects, workshops, and trainings on a wide range of topics including cancer, HIV and osteoporosis. More than 25 percent of these research dollars have been directed at cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of women, with studies examining such issues as QT interval prolongation (a disorder of the heart’s electrical activity), how breast cancer drugs can affect the heart, and sex differences in various cardiac interventional therapies. FDA’s medical product centers have also sponsored women’s health research and initiatives such as the Health of Women Program that promote a better understanding of sex differences.

The results have been impressive: OWH’s research alone has been published in over 290 articles in peer-reviewed journals and has made impact on the regulatory decision-making process, including guidance documents, label changes, and standards development. Indeed, FDA’s guidance to industry is an important way that the agency has been helping to address important issues in women’s health.

Over the years, FDA guidance has encouraged greater inclusion of women in clinical trials and the evaluation of sex differences. Our own analysis last year found that women make up about half of the representation in these studies, but the numbers are lower for medical devices. So we have more to do and recently issued guidance to medical device developers to address this concern.

We have also made great strides in our communication and outreach to women during the past two decades. OWH’s Take Time to Care Program has built partnerships with other government agencies, retailers, and national organizations that provide millions of women with FDA safety information. Over the years, we have launched other educational initiatives like the Food Safety for Moms-to-Be and expanded the women’s health resources available via our “For Women” website and social media to make sure that women have tools to help them make informed decisions about the use of FDA-regulated products.

I am pleased at how much we have done to promote and protect women’s health since 1994. At the center of much of this change has been the consistent, driving force of the Office of Women’s Health and its determined leader, Marsha Henderson. I encourage you to check out OWH’s 20th Anniversary brochure to learn more about the progress that has been made. And I hope that you will collaborate with us on the work that still needs to be done.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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